A Summer Dairy Research Update on Heifer Reproduction and Hypocalcaemia was offered by Pro-Dairy in several locations across New York State.
About 30 attendees from around Central New York attended the first meeting, which was held at Stony Brook Farm near Amsterdam, NY where Julio O. Giordano, DVM, MS PhD, Cornell University, presented an update on “Reducing Replacement Heifers Rearing Cost through Improved Reproductive Management”. Robert A. Lynch, DVM, Cornell University PRO-DAIRY Program, Herd Health & Management Specialist, presented updated information on treatment and prevention of hypocalcaemia in fresh cows.
Giordano pointed out that although heifer rearing enterprises are critical to dairy farming, raising heifers is a huge expense on the farm budget, costing even up to 20 percent of the total cost of production. Said heifers that get pregnant earlier have a shorter rearing period helping to reduce farm operating costs.
“Dairy heifers represent a significant part of the cost of producing milk on dairy farms,” explained Giordano. “A potential strategy to reduce this cost is by reducing the non-productive part of their lifetime, by making them calve earlier in life — provided they are fed well to meet growth benchmarks.”
Showing charts providing new research data and statistics on recent, ongoing studies of different reproductive management programs and breeding theories used on three New York State Holstein commercial dairy farms, Giordano stressed the importance of heat detection. “The biggest problem is in service rate; if you don’t breed them, they won’t get pregnant!”
“A basic principle to get heifers to calve earlier is to get them pregnant the soonest possible after they become eligible for breeding. Early pregnancy can be accomplished with programs that rely mostly on heat detection after use of prostaglandins, provided that heat detection efficiency is high.”
Giordano commented that, obviously, a heifer that gets pregnant earlier will also be milking earlier. He emphasized time lost because of delayed breeding equals lost profit, since lost time affects profitability and cash flow. “What’s the best way for that animal to make money?”
A basic formula for economics of heifer rearing is, “Total profitability equals rearing plus lactation.”
“Farms that struggle with heat detection will benefit by the use of a first breeding program that relies on timed artificial insemination.”
Giordano said it is really unusual to find a heifer that does not show heat even when she is not in the best health.
“The perspective of the heifer is biology. It’s really hard to find heifers that are in bad health that will not show heat. Generally the problem is with some level of management — with not having people that can detect heat for various reasons.”
Studies confirm that heifers show stronger and longer heat than cows.
Timed A.I. protocol for all treatments has been shown to be more successful using a five-day program as opposed to the traditional seven-day. “Timed A.I. is a tool. We use five-day; it proves to be the best for heifers.”
Giordano recommends sexed semen for first service.
“As for many other areas of management on dairy farms, the best management strategy depends on the type of farm and resources available,” said Giordano. “More importantly a reproductive program for heifers will be successful if it is proactive, consistent and implemented by committed farm personnel.”
Giordano is Assistant Professor for Dairy Cattle Biology & Management with the Department of Animal Science at Cornell University and is affiliated with St. John Family Sesquicentennial.
Robert A. Lynch, DVM, summarized his short presentation of hypocalcaemia in fresh cows and treatment with calcium supplementation.
“We are still trying to understand normal calcium dynamics in the dairy cow around calving time,” said Lynch. “This NYFVI-funded research helps the dairy industry better understand calcium’s importance to fresh cow health and productivity, and who benefits from calcium supplementation. Older cows, cows with evidence of lameness or over-conditioning and cows with subclinical hypocalcaemia benefited from oral calcium soon after calving.”
Program coordinator David Balbian, CNY Area Dairy Specialist with Cornell, commented on the program.
“If you are on top of heat detection in your heifers it will really pay off in dollars and cents,” said Balbian. “If your heat detection program is not very good you will be losing money on all of these heifers that calve in later than they should. In this situation of poor heat detection, one of the synchronization programs, well-adhered to, will really pay off.”
Balbian also commented on calcium supplementation.
“The research on oral calcium supplementation is really a mixed bag. With some animals it pays off. In others it does not pay off. More research needs to be done in this area.”
Stony Brook Farm owner Paul Bargstedt and family provided a tour of their farm preceding the Summer Dairy Reproduction update.
The farm is an approximately 1,000-cow dairy that has participated in a NYFVI project “Using Precision Feeding to Improve Farm Profitability” and routinely have interns from SUNY Cobleskill’s Agricultural Program working on their farm.
Stony Brook Farm owner Paul Bargstedt reports that approximately 50 percent of the farm’s first calf heifers are pregnant with their second calf by the time they are 24-months-old. “That is an amazing statistic that tells you how successful they are with their reproduction program,” remarked Balbian.